Do you have an Online Community?

An NPO needs to consider how to leverage and expand its community of ‘active loyalists’ for the benefit of the social mission. Most commonly, NPOs have been exceptionally talented at creating offline communities, however the most promising opportunities are emerging from online communities springing up across the internet. People are gathering online to discuss marriage, family, politics, movies, music, disasters, diseases—the list of topics is endless.

People from around the globe are intrinsically motivated to contribute to a community because it resonates with them in a particular way.  For example, many communities can be found in which people support and advise each other on topics from Multiple Sclerosis to Justin Beiber, from Subaru to fantasy football.  The point is, everything is up for discussion, including brand, and successful brand managers need to be aware of the content in online conversations because they provide invaluable, genuine and unsolicited feedback about an organisation’s products, services, mission, and conduct.

For an organization to effectively support a community around its brand, it needs to provide an authentic place where community members feel free to exchange their experiences, positive or negative, with the organization.  In this way, a community of constituents can provide assistance to each other, adding value to their collective experience of the NPO and its social mission.

Community will act as a mechanism that ‘pulls’ constituents to the brand rather than relying on branding messages being ‘pushed’ out to constituents through marketing activities.  

According to a McKinsey global survey, 81% of marketers agree that online presence is important for remaining competitive.  To offer constituents a more interactive experience with their brands, marketers in the survey have been trending away from the use of websites and e-mail towards the use of mobile applications and communication tools.  Specifically, to deliver an online brand promise the organization needs to explore tools that can allow constituents to personalize their experience (convenience), collaborate with others (belonging, adventure), make their own design (recognition, achievement), make purchases or transactions (convenience), or decide on their own price (convenience).  This does not mean that websites should be abandoned; instead they should be the foundation to which all other online branding activities are tethered because it is the storefront by which constituents gather their first impressions of the online brand.

Unquestionably, the virtual world is having an increasing effect on real world brands.  It creates incalculable opportunity for an organization while simultaneously creating a space in which they are becoming increasingly vulnerable.  It has created a forum for discussing social issues and advocating for the constituents an NPO serves by reinforcing relationships with existing constituents and building relationships with new ones.

However, many NPOs are failing to adequately utilize online tools for the benefit of their social mission and brands.

Simply posting to a Facebook page, opening a Twitter account or updating the website will not produce an online community.  Instead, the organization needs to think in terms of forging relationships with constituents rather than accumulating transactions and shift from a community awareness model to a community ownership model.  For the NPO this means shifting some resources to building community around the social mission rather than over-allocating resources to awareness campaigns.

Additional Reading:


About Darcy McDonald

Exploring the intersection between social innovation and evaluation.


  1. Jackie

    This is a great article Darcy!

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